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England lost the toss, batted through the toughest conditions of the Test, had almost everyone contribute and bowled as a team. It was a well-deserved victory
July 25, 2011
The Test wasn't without its ebbs and flows and India did manage to bat almost 100 overs in the final innings but even the most fervent Indian supporter would find it impossible to dispute England's comprehensive superiority in this Test. They batted through the toughest conditions in the Test, pulled themselves out of a wobble in the second innings and their bowlers remained threatening throughout. Only the catching remains a concern but the optimistic view would be that the margin of victory was massive despite five dropped catches.
The most satisfactory aspect of this impressive and commanding performance was the totality of it. Kevin Pietersen was Man of the Match for his epic, skillfully-constructed double hundred, but England owed their first-day survival as much to Jonathan Trott, the kind of batsman who is likely to be more appreciated by fellow cricketers than fans. Matt Prior provided two vital innings from No. 7, helping England consolidate in the first innings, and later taking them from a potentially risky position to an unassailable one. And Ian Bell and Stuart Broad were vital in building partnerships at important junctures in the match.
But the bowlers were the real heroes of the match. The English camp has, throughout this Test, underlined the challenge of claiming 20 wickets at Lord's and certainly the wickets had to be earned. Even without Virender Sehwag and without much practice in these conditions, India are a formidable Test match lineup. To restrict them to under 300 in both innings on a reasonably good batting pitch took discipline, perseverance, skill and teamwork. The batsmen were never allowed to feel settled at the crease, the prospect of a wicket loomed almost constantly and England raised the intensity every time a breakthrough was achieved.
In most circumstances, dropping great batsmen would deflate the bowlers. Remarkably, every dropped catch at Lord's seemed to galvanise the England bowlers. In the first innings, Stuart Broad netted the biggest fish by pitching it up and swinging it away from Sachin Tendulkar. In his next over he saw both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman dropped; at that stage, he could have had the entire top order either caught behind or bowled.
Broad's Ashes-winning 5 for 37 at The Oval in 2009 was perhaps more dramatic but it came on a far more helpful pitch. This was a more wholesome performance: his menace was consistent and sustained, and he became the enforcer in the truest sense by delivering wickets throughout the match.
Chris Tremlett was his perfect foil. Much is said of the awkward bounce he generates from a length but he beat the bat repeatedly by making the ball hold its line. He consistently troubled Dravid in the first innings and earned Tendulkar's wicket for Broad by choking him up after three confident boundaries. He had served notice to the Indians in 2007 with a sharp spell in Nottingham that accounted for three top-order wickets, though they proved inconsequential because they had only a few runs to defend. Since his return to the side during the latest Ashes, he has looked the complete package, with pace, bounce, seam movement and accuracy. His impact on this Test was far greater than the four wickets that the scorecard recorded.
Broad and Tremlett together made up for a below-par first-innings performance from James Anderson, who came in to the series with top billing. But Anderson began to find his rhythm as the match wore on and as he switched to the Nursery End. The ball that bowled Zaheer Khan on the third day, pitching on leg and middle and straightening to hit off, would have been good enough for any top-order batsman.
It was inconceivable for India to save this Test without a huge contribution from their big three and Dravid and Laxman, batting in their 30s overnight and growing in confidence, presented the biggest impediment to an England victory. Once Anderson removed them on either side of the first drinks break, India were always struggling. It could be argued that both batsmen conspired to dismiss themselves, but it was reward for relentless bowling.
Tendulkar's wicket was the decisive blow, and for good reason; Anderson could have got him twice in the space of three balls. The first one drew Tendulkar forward to elicit an edge that Andrew Strauss spilled at first slip. Two balls later he nipped one back to trap Tendulkar lbw, just as he had done four years ago at this ground.
This was the sixth time Anderson has nailed Tendulkar and, in doing so, he joined Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie as Tendulkar's tormentors-in-chief - and, with the other two retired, he has the opportunity now to pull ahead. At the moment, Anderson v Tendulkar reads: 223 balls, 114 runs, 6 dismissals, average 19.00.
Graeme Swann managed only two wickets, but both were top-order ones and came at crucial junctures. He was by some margin the best spinner in the match and, though Rahul Dravid played him exceptionally in both innings, he created far more opportunities than his more experienced rival. It is Swann's presence that tilts the scale marginally in favour of this English bowling unit ahead of the class of 2005. Ashley Giles could do a holding job, Swann takes wickets.
India were bedeviled by the injury to their premier bowler on the first day that neutered their bowling attack, and their batting order, already weakened by the absence of Sehwag, was further unsettled by Tendulkar's illness and Gautam Gambhir's injury. But they would be disappointed with the batting on the final day. Dravid was livid with himself after nicking a wide ball, and Laxman wore his familiar shell-shocked look after pulling one straight to midwicket.
As MS Dhoni said after the match, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for India in this match. But, as they have shown on their route to becoming the top-ranked Test side, they are pretty good at moving on.
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